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Knight (Unfinished Hero #1) by Kristen Ashley

Chapter One

Pointless but It’s Somethin’

I was standing in the corner.

I didn’t want to be there, I hadn’t wanted to be there for a while and I was considering making a move not to be there anymore when he walked in.

But these thoughts flew from my head, in fact, every thought flew from my head as I caught sight of him and blinked.

Then I stared.

He was tall. I had no idea how to describe how tall he was but the only word I could think of was “very”. Very tall. He was wearing a nice, tailored, black wool overcoat. With the lighting, all I could see was that he had on trousers, not their color or style, just that they weren’t jeans or cords. I could also see he had on nice shoes. Those could also be described as the “very” variety of nice. They were shiny and clearly expensive. Other than that, with his side to me, I couldn’t take anything else in.

And I really didn’t try.

I was fascinated by it all but my attention was taken by his face. His features, even mostly in profile, were striking. Not perfection but so intensely masculine I’d never seen anything like it. It was almost unreal.

But his hair surprised me. He had on an expensive overcoat, expensive shoes and he was here, at this party, in this lavish apartment in a way that I knew, unlike me, he belonged here. But his very dark, thick, slightly wavy hair needed a cut. It wasn’t long and unkempt, it was simply longish and unruly. Like he had better things to do than to get regular haircuts and those things weren’t clubbing, hanging with his crew and taking fastidious care of his body, clothing and all other parts of his physical being so that he could play and then nail every female who threw herself at him.

Then again, if he did that, he’d never come up for air.

His height, his clothes, his looks, his hair were not all that fascinated me.

He was angry. It was not only etched in the hard line of his strong jaw, his lips pressed together in unconcealed annoyance or his gaze sharp on the scene that lay before him.

It was physical. A swell of vibrating heat that filled the room.

I wasn’t the only one who noticed. With some effort, tearing my eyes away from him, I saw those closest to him had turned to look at him, some were even taking a few steps away to retreat.

I didn’t blame them. I was all the way across the room in the corner and I still felt it. But if I was close, I, too, would shift away.

It was terrifying. Utterly.

I wondered if Nick had a roommate and my guess was, he did. My other guess was, he had no idea Nick was having a party.

My eyes swept the space. The sunken living room and the elevated areas surrounding it were cluttered with bodies. There was a bottle of champagne that had overturned on the coffee table and it clearly had been at least half full considering the wet stain on the carpet and the puddle on the table. I knew two people had broken glasses, I heard them. One, some girl cleaned up. The other, the pieces had been kicked around and likely smushed into the kickass furry carpet or ground into the dark wood floors luckily not causing any injuries (yet). There were beer bottles, liquor bottles and glasses everywhere, even sitting on the floor or having rolled under tables. There were overfull ashtrays, ashes on the floor, even butts. The music wasn’t ear-splitting loud but considering it was after one in the morning, it was still too loud. The neighbors in this swank building definitely could hear it not to mention the noisy buzz of conversation and they probably wouldn’t like it.

I knew I wouldn’t and I didn’t.

And neither did Nick’s roommate.

My eyes went back to where he was standing and they did this hesitantly. Part of me wanted to see him again. I was a woman and he was the kind of man a woman would look at. Any woman. No matter what their tastes ran to. He just attracted female attention and any woman would want a second look. Part of me was scared to look mostly because he was pretty scary. This was because a man who could walk into a room wearing an overcoat, be there a moment and fill the room with a searing, angry vibe was pretty scary.

But when I looked back, he was gone.

And I took this as my cue to be gone.

I didn’t want to come anyway but Sandrine had her sights set on Nick for a while now. Viv and I had told her time and again he was a player and we knew this because we knew a number of girls he’d played. But Sandrine saw him as the golden goose. She spent a goodly amount of time on the hunt for the golden goose and the minute she laid eyes on the handsome Nick Sebring, she decided he was The One.

The minute I laid eyes on him, my stomach turned. He was good-looking, this was fact. He was also a jerk. This was impossible to miss. And he was something else, something I couldn’t put my finger on, something I didn’t like. Not at all.

But to Sandrine, he had it all. Flash, dash, beauty…

And money.

Yes, my friend was a gold digger.

Still, call me crazy, and I called myself that more than once over my years of knowing her, I loved her. She was a pain in the behind a lot of the time and I had to say her single-minded pursuit of The One, just as long as The One was gorgeous, built and loaded, kind of freaked me out sometimes, alarmed me others and flat out scared me on occasion. But at least she knew who she was and what she wanted.

And this, I thought, surveying the scene, was what she wanted. She wanted to reign as queen at exactly this kind of scene. Free-flowing booze and champagne. Well-dressed lackeys. Sumptuous apartments with sunken living rooms, state-of-the-art kitchens and wraparound balconies. And we’d put our coats in Nick’s bedroom so I’d had a quick look. Seriously, one look at Nick’s bedroom and even I nearly reconsidered his jerk status, it was that gorgeous.

Then, approximately a half a second later, I remembered nothing was worth putting up with a jerk. Not even a beyond gorgeous bedroom. Especially not a jerk like Nick.

I put my mostly unconsumed drink on the black marble countertop that adorned the long bar that separated the kitchen from the living room and started to make my way to the balcony.

I didn’t want to do this and this was the reason why I was hiding in a dark corner. I’d tried mingling but this wasn’t my scene and the people there knew it just as well as me. Sandrine told me I should buy a dress and keep the tags on, just tuck them in to hide them. She also told me to buy a pair of shoes and she’d go with me to make a scene if they wouldn’t accept the return because they were scuffed. But I thought this was uncool so I refused like I did all the other times Sandrine suggested this.

She didn’t mind doing this and did it all the time. Sweat stains, martini stains, it didn’t matter. Once she’d even returned a pair of shoes whose strap broke while she was dancing. And it was the fourth time she’d worn them.

Not me.

So I was wearing a pair of high-heeled sandals I bought two years ago. They were cute, even, I thought, sexy but they were cheap, not even real leather. I’d taken care of them but still, they looked what they were. Same with my dress. TJ Maxx and not even a way out of season designer, just a no name. I thought it was pretty, it showed just enough skin, not too much, it fit like a glove and it was the perfect color for me but it wasn’t silk, satin or labeled. It was polyester and even at TJ Maxx I bought it on sale.

And the eyes came to me, moving up and down, lips curling, noses scrunching, eyes rolling.

This was the girls.

The guys, eyes right to my breasts, h*ps or legs. At this point of the evening, they didn’t care if they banged class or someone who thought they could buy it. They just wanted to bang anything and would take what they could get.

Sandrine had headed out to the balcony about half an hour ago with Nick. She’d not returned so this was my destination. Therefore, my journey was a long one, weaving through bodies, avoiding crossed legs or stepping over straightened ones of those sitting on couches, feeling gazes following me the entire way.

It seemed to last an hour but probably lasted around two minutes.

Then I was through the glass door and outside.

It felt good out there, cold but good. No smoke, the stuffiness of too many bodies in a space gone, I allowed myself a moment to drink it in.

Then I looked around.

A couple to the right in a clinch. Not Sandrine.

I turned my head left and nearly at the corner of the balcony I saw Nick had Sandrine against the floor to ceiling window. They were also in a clinch.

Ugh.

I clicked over in my inexpensive (but cute) sandals and when I got somewhat close called, “Uh… sorry to disturb.”

Nick’s head came up and both of their eyes came to me. Otherwise, they didn’t move a muscle.

Nick’s eyes dropped to my breasts.

Sandrine’s eyes widened in a clear but nonverbal, “What the f*ck are you doing here?” She finally had him where she’d wanted him for a long while and she wasn’t happy to be disturbed.

“Again, sorry,” I said quietly when I got close and looked to Sandrine. “Honey, I need to go home.”

“Okay,” she replied immediately.“Text you tomorrow.”

I blinked.

We had a pact, never leave a man behind. Not to mention, we’d shared a taxi and since we were sharing one back and she’d driven to my house that meant such a treat was affordable.

“Um… but –” I started.

“I’m good,” she cut me off. “Nick can take me home when I go home.” Her head turned to Nick. “Right, Nick?”

He didn’t move his eyes from my br**sts for a moment before they drifted lazily to my face.

“Why are you leaving?” he asked and I stared at him.

What did he care?

“Well, it’s getting late and –” I began to explain.

He interrupted with, “Stay.”

“Pardon?” I asked.

“Stay,” he repeated then a grin spread on his face that I did not like, not that I liked much about Nick, as in nothing. His head turned to Sandrine who he still had pinned to the windows then back to me and in a low voice with unmistakable meaning, he said softly, “The three of us, we’ll have a party.”

I blinked again even as I stiffened and saw Sandrine doing the same.

Then I stated firmly, “No, actually, I need to go home which is where I’m going.” I looked to my friend. “Sandrine?”

She looked miffed, not a little, a lot.

At me.

God, Sandrine.

Then she looked at Nick and announced, “I don’t do three-ways. It’s just me or nothing.”

He looked at me. “You uptight like that?” he asked.

See? Jerk!

“Absolutely,” I answered.

“Shame,” he muttered then, still looking at me, “Though, figure, just you’d be enough.”

Seriously?

“Seriously?” This came sharp and from Sandrine.

Told you Nick was a jerk and something else and whatever that something else was, was not good.

“Right, if that’s the gig then whoever’s stayin’ stays and whoever’s leavin’ leaves,” Nick went on and he did this eyes on Sandrine, who he had pinned to the windows but somehow, and it wasn’t lost on Sandrine or me, he was insinuating it was her he wanted to leave.

God, I hoped this opened her eyes to this dirtbag.

I should have known better. Those eyes came to me and she said, “I’ll text you tomorrow.”

God, somehow, some way I needed to get her to snap out of it. I wished Viv was here with me. She’d lay it out. Then again, she had, more often and with less gentleness than me and Sandrine never listened to her either.

“Sandrine –”

“Anya, honey, I’ll text you tomorrow.”

She was getting impatient. She was also living firm in the mistaken knowledge that her beauty (and she was beautiful), her style (ditto with the style, she had it in spades) and her abilities between the sheets (I had no idea about that one, though, according to her, she was fabulous) would twine Nick Sebring close and he wouldn’t want to break free.

“Sandrine, I’m not comfor –” I started yet again.

“Anya,” she cut me off again. “I’ll… text… you… tomorrow.” Then she gave big eyes to Nick who was looking at me and didn’t notice. These eyes indicated that I was missing the fact she had her golden goose in her snare and I needed to vamoose, and pronto, so she could work her magic.

I didn’t like this. You didn’t leave a man behind but you really didn’t leave a man behind with Nick Sebring.

But other than drag her kicking and screaming out of the apartment, down fifteen floors and into a taxi, I didn’t know what to do.

So I muttered, “Tomorrow.”

She grinned at me.

I frowned at her and tried to communicate seven thousand words about Nick being a jerk with my eyes. But she just turned back to him, lifted her hand to his cheek and turned his face to her.

Really, Vivica was right. Sandrine was living in a fantasy world. She’d had a Daddy who treated her like she was precious, told her she was beyond beautiful and spoiled her rotten. Then she’d had a high school boyfriend who did the same. Then in college, another boyfriend, the same. From birth to twenty-two, she’d had the golden life gliding on her beauty and feminine wiles. She hadn’t cottoned onto the fact that, after leaving college five years ago, she’d entered the jungle. And further, the particular jungle she chose to hunt in had bigger, more ferocious predators even after a number of them had already chewed her up and spit her out.

With no choice, I called a soft, “Goodnight,” and turned away.

I received no farewells.

I didn’t look back.

I headed to my coat and luckily I had something to do while I did it so I didn’t have to feel the eyes on me or see the looks. As I wended my way through bodies and muttered vague, “excuse me’s”, I was pulling my little (cheap but cute) purse open to pull out my cell.

By the time I got to the mouth of the hall, I had it out.

The apartment was strange. I thought this because it was huge. I’d never been in an apartment that large before. I didn’t even know they came that large. But it also had a bizarre layout.

Bizarre or not, it was cool and even if it wasn’t my thing and it didn’t look all that great now stuffed full of bodies and the detritus of a party, I couldn’t say it wasn’t stunning. It was.

You walked into a wide hall at the side of which one wall had two doors (closed) the other was just a wall that delineated the hall from the kitchen. This hall led to the living room which was mostly sunken, three steps down to the seating area. But around its perimeter was an elevated, wide, dark wood-floored area and two sides of the living room were surrounded by floor to ceiling windows.